Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bread Making and Baby Alpacas:Double Adventure

What does a lady do on a warm spring morning in
Southern California's foothill mountains? Why learn to
make a good healthy wheat bread of course. Doesn't everyone?
It was my youngest sister who discovered this adventure and I still don't know how she found out about it. But I'm happy she did. Any time spent in our local mountains is worth the driving time and since this place was only twenty minutes away, we decided to give ourselves a day out.

I'm not sure where she came up with the driving time, but it had to be from Crow GPS, since the distance was obviously measured in "as the crow flies" miles. Getting out of San Diego was the easy part. Head east on the freeway and then veer left at El Cajon toward the unincorporated village of Crest. Even that part wasn't too bad as the double lane road was paved and while it was a little twisty, it didn't keep me from admiring the scenery.  
For the most part the road up toward
Crest is easy going, albeit winding.

The closer to got to our destination the more twisty the road got. It still wasn't bad till the road turned to one-lane gravel. That's when the zig-zagging grew worse and likely would still have been fine except for the rapid gain in elevation. The roadway has been well maintained and to be truthful, I was glad I wasn't the one driving. I had enough to do just making sure she stayed in the middle of the narrow hairpin road. I was also thanking the Lord that it was a fine day with no rain spitting on us as had been happening as we'd left San Diego. My sister is brave and will drive in almost any weather. I'm the coward who stays home and watches from behind the curtain.
The barn houses the alpaca
fiber in assorted colors, the yarn shop,
and the dying stations.
We kept going till we hit the top of the hill where the road seemingly ended. A single land road led off to the left with a NO TRESPASSING sign clearly visible. A phone call to the house informed us to come on down and so we did. Once we took that turn I felt like we were on the downhill side of a roller coaster for other than a twist here and there, the road went almost straight down. In less than five minutes we came to a large home/business called A Simpler Time Alpacas & Mill. What had initially drawn us here was the bread making class taught by Barbara Davies, wife of Dave Davies, both of whom run their business--along with the help of as many of their eight children still left at home. 

Barbara ushered us all into her dining room, large enough to hold a long sturdy table with twelve chairs around and no crowding. I felt like I had a seat at some medieval king's table. Each of us had a cup of coffee and a giant size cinnamon roll topped with frosting unlike what my mom made and I was so intent on eating the roll that I forgot to ask what the frosting had been made of but I'm almost sure I tasted cream cheese in there somewhere. Or maybe yogurt. The Greek kind. Whatever it was, I scarfed up every crumb.

Barbara asked around the table for each one to tell their bread making experience and why we'd come to the class. A few of us had grown up with nothing but homemade bread in our lives; most had tried their hand at making the blessed loaf and failed; a few had never even tried but wanted to learn. With introductions made, she ushered us into her kitchen, so big it held not only a giant-sized island, but room all around for each of us to have a front-row seat. I mean standing place.

I figured Barbara would begin by showing us how to make bread. That isn't what happened. First she explained that because store bought flour isn't their choice for a simpler life, she buys twenty-five pound bags of raw southern white wheat and grinds it herself, making six loaves at a time. Once I understood the size of her family, and most of them guys, I knew she had to make a lot of bread at a time and most likely, more than once a week. The wheat mill was LOUD, making it almost impossible to hear any conversation. It also seemed to take quite a while to grind five cups of wheat into flour, but perhaps it only seemed like that since it was near impossible to chat with the one standing beside you with the mill going.

When Barbara deemed the work had finished, she shut down the mill, removed the large basket, and showed us all the smooth, nearly cream-colored flour. I've baked almost all of my life from sixth grade on up and this soft winter wheat did not even look like any kind of wheat flour. It was light, fluffy, and almost looked like it would be fun to play in. And if her smallest kids are in the kitchen at bread making time, I would hazard a guess that little hands dip into that flour just like my sisters and I used to do. 

From the mill, she moved to her bread making machine. Now let
Barbara's mixing machine makes enough
dough for six loaves of bread and/or rolls.
Fresh dough ready to be
made into loaves and rolls
me explain that her machine doesn't turn out a loaf of bread as most of us would think of something called a bread machine. What her very large machine does it blend it, knead it, and keeps going until Barbara deems it's finished it's job. The dough looked like what my mom used to make once a week on baking day when she turned out six loaves of bread plus assorted rolls like cinnamon, pecan, cloverleaf, parker house, and crescents. By hand. No kneading machines in those days. We sisters would smell the bread before we even got close to home. And we always knew where to find that which mom deemed an after school treat. And heaven help us if we took anything from the dining room table where she had everything else laid out on white dish towels in order to cool. When I was little there was no freezer. We had an ice box in our kitchen and I've often wondered how mom kept the bread soft for a whole week. Wished I'd remembered to ask her.

Pizza rolls made that morning
and those from the class, ready
for the oven.
Once the dough had finished kneading, Barbara oiled her wooden cutting board and dumped the whole glob onto it. I thought that was inspired. I always do what mom did and sprinkle flour over my board, which to my mind makes the dough get too crusty on the outside. Barbara's use of oil allowed the loaf to stay soft and pliable and I watched as she cut it into six even pieces. She rolled five of the cuts into a loaf and placed them into a glass bread pans she'd spritzed with some kind of cooking spray. The last piece she rolled out onto her bread board and before our eyes fashioned pizza rolls that have every Italian Pizza House beat as far as taste goes. I was in love as she handed out pizza rolls she'd made that morning. No cheese dripped off onto my blouse, no grease ran down my hands, no sauce smeared itself all over my face. But all the taste of pizza was there. It's definitely going to be my new "to go" home pizza.

We stood around the kitchen island as Barbara loaded the bread into her warming oven to let it raise. In less than fifteen minutes she was putting the bread into the oven. I was astonished at how high each loaf has risen in such a short time. Once she closed the oven door and set the timer, she announced that we were off to the shop where they keep their stash of alpaca yarn. As avid knitters, my sister and I had come to see the yarns, but we were both glad the bread was thrown in because even though we've both made bread nearly all of our adult lives, we learned some new tricks that made the class so worthwhile.

I had visions of my sister
being toppled by the wheelchair
and me being nothing but a wild
streak headed for the barn.

Because I am somewhat disabled I use a walker to get around, but my sister had accidentally packed my wheelchair instead.. She insisted she would take me to the yarn shop, even if she had to walk backward and pull me along in front of her. Once we both saw the hill I said, "no way." Even going backwards, the hill was so steep I was afraid she'd lose her balance and maybe even fall and I'd keep going, right over the top of her and down, down, down right into the mill and worse yet, head first into a vat of purple dye. All things considered, I accepted Mr. Davies offer of a ride in his van. I was impressed. I'd not asked for special treatment. They saw my problem and came up with an answer on their own. I was one appreciative lady.

The youngest baby stayed close to
mom and never came near the fence.
She sort of hid behind the feed bin.
Once we'd investigated the yarn and made our purchases, we were off to see the babies. While most of the alpaca are penned elsewhere on the Davies forty-two acres, the babies and their moms are right behind the mill. It was cuteness overload. The smallest baby stayed back from the fence, close to mom. The larger ones stuck their nose through the fence wire just enough so I could feel part of their head. Soft. I mean almost like air. I've never felt anything so cloud-like in my life. It was almost addictive sneaking a finger through the fence so I could feel that fur. Or fiber. Or whatever its proper name is. I just wanted to get into the pen with them and wrap my arms about their cute little bodies and snuggle them close. But I didn't  venture asking. I figured the answer would be no. But it sure was a temptation.

Most babies had grown near the size
of mom so it was hard to tell them
apart. It was so cute the way their
heads were sprinkled with hay. I watched
them eating and they sort of buried their
faces in their tub. Perhaps mom needs
to teach them better table manners.
I asked Barbara what was the difference between alpaca and llama. She explained that in old times, llama was the fiber of the masses while alpaca belonged to the rich and elite. The royalty. Just happens she has a whole shop full of yarn for royals. I figured that was me. And anyone who had made it down that hill. Barbara spins and dyes her own yarn and the colors and assorted weights are so lovely it had been nearly impossible to make a choice. And since each of us had been given a ten dollar gift certificate after the bread class, nobody went away empty handed.

Does anything top fresh made
bread? Yes, getting to take
a whole loaf home.
Sooner or later, each of us made it back up the hill to the house. Mr. Davies graciously drove me. Such a kind family and great hosts. Each of us received a loaf of fresh bread upon leaving and our vehicle smelled heavenly all the way home. My sister kept saying that the minute we were inside the house she was going to eat the whole loaf. Between the two of us, we almost did. She left the little bit that was left for me to finish before she drove back to her own home. She also let me keep the fresh loaf. It's in my freezer. I'm keeping it for a special day. Anyway, after gorging on nearly a whole loaf, we were both pretty much breaded out. And loving it.

This is a day out I'd recommend to everyone who wants to combine bread making and luscious yarn and adorable alpacas into one fun event. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, contact the Davies at A Simpler Time Alpacas & Mill; 1802 Alta Place; El Cajon CA 92021 or call (619) 579-9114. The fee is $10--which you recover with the gift shop certificate for the same amount. And just so you know, each class is limited to twelve. Altogether, this is in a win-win adventure. My sister and I had a great time and now my other sister and one niece want to go so it looks like we'll be back. I'm not sure they're prepared for the fun-loving Legler girls. We've never been known for our shyness.

I do suggest wearing sturdy shoes if you want to see the store and the baby alpaca. The gravel road down to it is rutted and quite steep. Tennis shoes slip. Wear shoes that won't send you sailing or flat on your behind.

Thanks to Sheila Allen, Sonia White, and A Simpler Time for the photos

copyright by Sandra L Keith May 2016

None of the photos or text may be used without permission.

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